Riverbed Turns Its Attention to SD-WAN

The vendor known for its WAN optimization technology will release products next year aimed at changing how branch networks are built and managed.

Riverbed SD-WAN

Riverbed Technology officials believe they have key advantages as the company looks to become a larger player in the developing software-defined networking space, and now they have new research to back up their efforts.

The vendor, which is best known for its SteelHead WAN optimization technologies, is planning to make an aggressive push into the increasingly competitive and crowded software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) market next year with an array of products that will be designed to change the way businesses architect their campus networks.

Riverbed earlier this month unveiled the results of a survey conducted at the VMworld 2015 show in late August in which 260 attendees were asked about their plans to embrace such enterprise networking technologies as software-defined networking (SDN) and SD-WAN. According to the numbers, 77 percent of respondents said their organizations are using SDN in their data centers, including 13 percent that have already deployed SDN. Another 29 percent are looking into SD-WAN for their remote offices, and 5 percent have fully implemented such technologies already.

What's driving most of the interest in software-defined technologies is being able to more quickly deploy new services and applications, according to the survey. Other drivers include cutting costs and reducing mistakes that are made when deploying applications and services.

Those drivers dovetail with Riverbed's history of improving application performance over the WAN, according to Chief Technology Officer Hansang Bae.

"SD-WAN is not just for steering traffic," Bae told eWEEK. "It's also to make the applications work."

Riverbed officials are looking to leverage the company's current capabilities and customer base in its effort to gain ground in the SD-WAN space. The vendor has an initiative underway dubbed "Project Tiger" that proposes eliminating the traditional branch network router and instead using a new version of its RiOS operating system running on a Riverbed system for routing services.

The new OS will use network-function virtualization (NFV) to deliver a broad array of services and will use drag-and-drop management capabilities in place of the command-line interface (CLI) that the current version of RiOS uses, according to Bae and Paul O'Farrell, senior vice president and general manager of Riverbed's SteelHead and SteelFusion business unit. The company also will use open REST application programming interfaces (APIs) and containers.

Building and managing branch networks have become costly and complex, and the current architectures don't fit well at a time when applications are increasingly housed in the cloud and access via the Internet, the officials said.

"The future of the WAN is not a router," O'Farrell told eWEEK, adding that what rivals like Cisco Systems and other network vendors are offering is "old wine in new bottles."

Bae also noted that Riverbed has more than 26,000 customers that already use its SteelHead appliance and other products for their branch offices, giving the company a large base on which to build its SD-WAN efforts.

"The ace in the hole for us is that with 26,000 customers, our insertion points are already in place," he said.

The technology is expected to be released in the second half of 2016, according to the officials. Riverbed became a private company late last year when it was bought by private equity firms for $3.6 billion. Bae and O'Farrell said launching a long-term initiative like Project Tiger would have been difficult to pull off as a public company that has to report earnings every quarter and needs to deal with the demands of shareholders and financial analysts.